Injuries leave No. 25 Illinois women’s basketball shorthanded in final home game of regular season


Angel Saldivar

Junior forward Kendall Bostic guards Nebraska’s Isabelle Bourne during Illinois’ final home game on Wednesday.

By Conor Blount, Assistant Sports Editor

Coming off a milestone win over Penn State that cemented Illinois women’s basketball’s first 20-win season in 15 years, the Illini were back at home for their final home game of the season. Aptly themed as Senior Night, the bittersweet matchup against Nebraska was especially emotional for senior guard Jada Peebles and graduate forward Geovana Lopes, who were honored with a goodbye ceremony after the game. Unfortunately for Illinois, the occasion was spoiled by its worst loss of the season, finishing with a final score of 90-57.

Just minutes before tipoff, it was announced that Illinois would be without sophomore forward Brynn Shoup-Hill and sophomore guard Jayla Oden, leaving the Illini without one of their starting forwards and a key bench piece. In the absence of Shoup-Hill, the final starting spot was allocated to Peebles who got to share the floor with junior guard Makira Cook, junior guard Genesis Bryant, sophomore guard Adalia McKenzie and junior forward Kendall Bostic in her last game at State Farm Center.

Illinois came out of the gates firing as Bryant found a popping Cook for a made shot from behind the arc. Despite how well the offense looked, the Illini could not get a stop on the defensive end. Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers were not allowing anything inside which forced Bostic to reach into her midrange game, sinking two jumpers from within the arc. Illinois managed to step up its results on defense, forcing a pair of turnovers while also boasting a balanced point distribution between Cook (5), McKenzie (4) and Bostic (4). Despite this, a layup in the final seconds of the first quarter left Illinois trailing 26-23.

The second quarter opened with a beautifully drawn up play that created a wide open driving lane for McKenzie. From there, the Illini managed to string together more successful plays on offense thanks to the playmaking of Cook, who found Bostic for a layup through contact before dropping it off to Peebles for a game-tying three (30-30).

Refusing to give up its lead, Nebraska fought back with eight straight points to take its largest lead yet. Bostic dropped in another tough bucket and Cook split a pair of shots at the free-throw line, but Nebraska once again responded with a run of its own and rattled off five straight to take a 10-point lead (43-33). With the clock dwindling down before half, McKenzie cut into the lead with an offensive rebound and midrange jumper but the Cornhuskers got those points back with a layup on their final possession to carry a double-digit lead in the break (45-35).

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After picking up some early fouls and having limited minutes in the second quarter as a result, Bryant showed just how valuable she is to the Illini by starting the second half with made three from the left corner before going back to the same corner and freeing up a midrange shot with a pump fake. However, Illinois immediately cooled off on offense and the Cornhuskers took advantage, putting in nine unanswered points to take a daunting 16-point lead (56-40).

Nebraska continued to increase its lead, while the lone bright spot for the Illini was what appeared to be a buzzer-beating three pointer from freshman guard Kam’Ren Rhodes, but even that came with a negative as it was later ruled as a long two-pointer (68-47).

Building on the slight momentum swing to end the quarter, Illinois showed some spirit out of the gates, with Cook totaling five points across back-to-back possessions. From there, however, Nebraska doubled down on its dominance, ultimately building its lead to a game-high 33 points by the time the final whistle blew (90-57).

Following the loss, Illinois dropped to 20-8 on the season and 10-7 against Big Ten opponents.

Not thrilled with her squad’s performance, there were few positive aspects Illinois head coach Shauna Green could point to moving forward. Size is something the Illini have lacked all year and without the 6’3 presence of Shoup-Hill, this ailment was made even more apparent as the Illini were outscored 46-18 in the paint and secured 20 fewer rebounds than Nebraska (44-24). To make matters worse, Green confirmed there is no timetable for Shoup-Hill and Oden’s return, meaning Illinois may have to play shorthanded at least once more this season.

“(Nebraska) killed us in the paint, which is something we take a lot of pride in,” Green said. “Every game its battle of the paint, battle of the boards and they absolutely destroyed us in both. You just can’t win games against a good team, or against anyone in this conference, when you get beat on the boards and get beat in the paint at that clip.”

Illinois women’s basketball will close out its regular season this Sunday at 1 p.m., looking for a road win over Rutgers.



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